Big Basin 50K
Once upon a time – early in my triathlon career – I said something like “An ultra-marathon has no appeal.” Well, I ate those words. Where did the impetus to run an ultra come from? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Somewhere between not running very much and trying to balance swimming and biking, the idea sprouted. Then it took hold. Then my credit card got in on the action and before I knew what was going on, I received an email thanking me for signing up to run 50-kilometers (31-miles).So, how long did it take to go from thinking of running an ultra to actually running one? Less than four weeks. That either proves that I have the utmost confidence in my ability to suffer and finish things – remember, I don’t stop until I’m given a finisher’s t-shirt – or that I’m incredibly dumb.
The race was Coastal Trail Runs’ Big Basin 50K. It’s a net downhill, so it didn’t sound too daunting, but we’ll get to that…
Being that I have absolutely no experience pacing myself in long-ass runs – Ironman marathons are different – I lined up at the front and just went with whatever pace felt good. Two guys in the marathon bolted from the get-go and I took off relativity quickly compared to the other 50K folks. One runner trailed closely behind during the first couple of miles, but by the 30-minute mark, I was all alone. Then it was just me, the trail, and some colourful ribbons to keep me entertained.
After an hour or so of running, I had no idea where I ran relative to anyone else. In that time, I had passed a few aid stations and re-tied my left shoe, because it was being an unruly bitch. Though, even after loosely re-tying my left shoe, my left foot still felt like the shoe was constricting it. It was probably in my head, so I pushed on chasing pretty ribbons.
Getting closer to the halfway point, my mind must have started to wander – as it tends to do – because I don’t really remember much. However, my memory comes back vividly when my right foot and a root got acquainted. I was running on a slight downhill when the two joined forces and abruptly halted my forward momentum. In the process of going down, I managed to land on my left leg with my knee locked. Something did something weird, because something felt weird upon impact. I remained on the ground for a moment, then tentatively moved my knee. To my relief, it felt fine. So, I fetched my water bottle and slowly resumed.
Just after the halfway point aid station, I took the turn for the 50K loop and was informed I was in fact the leader, to which I replied, “Woo-hoo!” My woo-hoos’ were short lived, because running downhill became downright tortuous – my toes kept slamming into the front of my shoes creating much displeasure.
Fortunately, ribbons were there to distract me, so all my focus went back to tracking those. However, given my recent history of sucking at staying on course, my mind was plagued by the thought of missing a turn. At times, the ribbons were close together and I was happy. Other times, my pink beacons of hope seemed to have vanished, which worried me. I’d tell myself, “Just run another minute up the trail. There’s bound to be another!” When I wouldn’t see one, I’d get a little anxious and run faster – so I’d lose less time if I was in fact off course (maybe not a valid train of thought). Fortunately though, I never went off course!
According to Mr. Garmin, around mile 23, the second place guy caught up. In actuality, and unbeknownst to us, we were actually at around mile 26. We exchanged stories of how we were klutzy – we both had fallen – and our history of ultras. Together, we ran by campers, crossed streams, ducked under fallen redwoods, and hopped over rocks and roots. We were like two deer frolicking in the woods, except we were actually two ultra-runners with very little ultra running experience.
He and I exchanged the lead a few times and on one occasion, the trail took a sharp left turn, which he missed. My head was down and I was hating the fact that I have big toes, when I realized he was going off course. Upon realizing his error, I yelled something like, “Blue. Blue! Blue is bad, Galen!” Blue ribbons signified a turn we did not want to make.
I waited and we continued on. I also resumed hating the fact that I have big toes.
We talked about breaking the 4-hour mark, but I didn’t think that was possible, as my Garmin registered about 26 miles and we were not on pace to clip off 6-minute miles. Shortly thereafter, we came upon a much needed aid station. We figured we had 4 or 5-miles to go, so I handed over my bottle and began stuffing my face with boiled potatoes dipped in salt. The volunteer cheerily said, “Great jobs, guys! Only 1.7-miles to the finish.” Upon the completion of that sentence, Galen took off. With a mouthful of potatoes, I hastily grabbed my water bottle and followed. I tried to find another gear, but honestly, I just wanted to cry due to my toes slamming into the front of my shoes repeatedly for 3-hours and 40-some odd minutes. The gap between Galen and I grew until I lost sight of him completely.
Nearing the finish, a hiker said I was about a quarter- to a half-mile from the finish. That lifted my spirits, as the 4-hour mark was within reach. About a quarter-mile later, another hiker said I had about two-thirds of a mile to go and I was less happy. The second guy must suck at estimating distances, because I was no more than 2-minutes from the finish. Upon getting a glimpse of the ocean and seeing the finish area, I forgot about my toes, albeit briefly, and finished a strong-ish second place.
I broke 4-hours, clocking 3:58:59 and promptly sat down and took my shoes off. Not surprisingly, I developed two large blood-blisters under each big toe toenail. Those ought to coming off shortly. Fun.
So, will I run another? Yep. In fact, I signed up for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 minutes after signing up for this race. Admittedly, the idea of a 50-miler got really real when I finished and realized I’d still have 19 more miles to go…